Vehicle Code 2800.3 VC punishes you for causing serious bodily injury or death to another person while you are evading (or are attempting to evade) an officer.1 This offense is a "wobbler", which means that the prosecution can elect to file the charge as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on
- the specific facts of the case, and
- your criminal history.
Typically, if you evade an officer and cause death or serious bodily injury to another, the prosecutor will charge you with the felony. And with the felony comes a mandatory three, five, or seven-year state prison sentence.2
But don't despair, we're here to help. As former cops and prosecutors, we understand that things aren't always what they seem. There may be a variety of innocent explanations that excuse your conduct...or at least reduce your culpability...so that you aren't unfairly punished.
Below, our California criminal defense attorneys3 explain:
If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
You may also find helpful information in our related articles on Vehicle Code 2800.1 VC Misdemeanor Evading an Officer; Vehicle Code 2800.2 VC Felony Reckless Evading; Penal Code 148 PC Resisting Arrest; Vehicle Code 23103 VC Reckless Driving; Penal Code 245(a)(1) PC Assault with a Deadly Weapon (ADW); Vehicular Manslaughter; Penal Code 187 PC Murder; and California Legal Defenses.
1. The Legal Definition of Vehicle Code 2800.3 VC
California's "Evading an Officer Causing Injury
or Death" Law
In order to convict you of this offense, the prosecutor must prove the following facts (otherwise known as "elements of the crime"):
- that you willfully evaded an officer4, and
- the flight from or the attempt to elude the officer was a cause of death or serious bodily injury to another person.5
The first element...that you willfully evaded an officer...is actually a crime in and of itself. Vehicle Code 2800.1 VC, California's misdemeanor "evading an officer" law has its own set of elements that require proof.
And because we have a separate in-depth article on that crime...which includes a detailed analysis about the elements that make up that offense...we'll jump right into a discussion about the second element.
The flight from or the attempt to elude the officer was a cause of death or serious bodily injury to another person.
Despite the fact that this element may seem pretty straight-forward, it isn't. The terms "cause" and "serious bodily injury" require some explanation.
Let's say that while you are evading an officer, you run a stop sign, hit another car, and injure the driver. Given these facts, you have clearly caused another person to suffer injury...an injury that was caused by you evading the police.
Now let's change the facts. Suppose that while you are evading an officer, you run a stop sign, hit another car, and that car flips over and kills a pedestrian who happens to be walking on the sidewalk. Given these facts, your evasion "caused" the pedestrian's death, even though it was the other car that actually hit the individual.6
Finally, let's change the facts one more time. Suppose that someone witnesses this accident and is so horrified that he suffers a heart attack and dies. Given these facts, you probably haven't caused that individual's death. While he may not have died if you hadn't fled the officer, his reaction is a little too remote. Here's why...
An act "causes death or serious bodily injury if
- the death or injury is the direct, natural, and probable consequence of the act, and
- the death or injury would not have happened without the act.
A natural and probable consequence is one that a reasonable person would know is likely to happen if nothing unusual intervenes."7
Looking at the above examples, the first two accidents were the direct, natural, and probable result of running the stop sign. When you run a stop sign, it is very likely that you will set in motion a series of events that could lead to another person's death or injury. And in both instances, the injured victim would not have been injured without you running the stop sign.
But in the third example, it's true that the heart attack victim probably wouldn't have suffered a heart attack if it weren't for your causing the accident. However, your California criminal defense lawyer would argue that his reaction wasn't "likely to happen" and therefore wasn't a "direct, natural, and probable consequence" of your actions.
Serious bodily injury
The phrase "serious bodily injury" means "a serious impairment of a physical condition, including (but not limited to)
- loss of consciousness,
- bone fracture,
- protracted loss or impairment of function of any bodily member or organ,
- a wound requiring extensive suturing, and
- serious disfigurement."8
Essentially, the phrase "serious bodily injury" has the same meaning as great bodily injury.9 And while the above are examples of serious bodily injury, they don't always necessarily constitute serious bodily injury. The key factor is whether they result in "a serious impairment of a physical condition".10
Just because you cause another person to suffer an injury, that doesn't mean that the injury qualifies as a serious bodily injury.
As Santa Ana criminal defense attorney Zachary McCready11 explains, "Overzealous prosecutors will charge you with violating Vehicle Code 2800.3 VC California's 'evading an officer causing serious bodily injury or death' law every time there's an injury...which simply isn't proper. It's my job to make sure that you are not unfairly charged with this offense simply because someone else suffers a cut or a bruise."
There are a variety of legal defenses to a Vehicle Code 2800.3 VC charge that your California criminal defense lawyer could present on your behalf. The following are some of the most common.
You didn't intend to evade the officer
Before prosecutors can convict you of this offense, they must prove that you willfully evaded an officer. This means that if you didn't intend to evade an officer...either because you didn't realize you were being pursued or, perhaps, because you were being forced by another person to do so...you aren't guilty of this crime.
Similarly, in order to convict you of evasion, the prosecutor must prove that the officer followed a series of strict protocols. If even one of the criteria wasn't properly adhered to, then that fact absolves you of your criminal liability for this charge.12
Example: Let's refer back to the example from above where you ran the stop sign and hit a car that car flipped and killed a pedestrian. If the officer who pursued you doesn't testify that she turned on at least one of her "red" flashing lights (one of the elements of an evading charge)...but instead only testified that she activated her general "overhead" lights...you are entitled to an acquittal.13
The death / injury was too remote or the injury wasn't a "serious" one
It bears repeating that if the death or injury wasn't the "direct, natural, or probable" result of your act of evading the officer, you aren't guilty of this offense. Similarly, if the only injury that anyone suffered was minor, you should be acquitted of this charge.
Vehicle Code 2800.3 VC California's "evading an officer causing injury or death" law has two components. If you cause serious injury to another person, the charge may be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If you kill another person, the charge is an automatic felony.14
If you are convicted of injuring another person under Vehicle Code 2800.3 VC as a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in a county jail and $2,000 to $10,000 in fines. If you are convicted of injuring another person as a felony, you face three, five, or seven years in the California state prison.15
If you are convicted of evading an officer and killing another person, you face four, six, or ten years in the state prison. This penalty doesn't preclude prosecutors from also charging you with murder or vehicular manslaughter (both discussed below).16
The court may additionally impound your car for up to 30 days,17 and the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) will revoke your driver's license for a period of three years.18
If you are a commercial driver who was driving a commercial vehicle that gave rise to your VC 2800.3 conviction, you will lose your commercial driver's license for one year upon your first conviction.19 A second or subsequent conviction will result in a lifetime suspension of your commercial license.20
Loss of your right to own or acquire firearms
In addition to the above penalties, a conviction for felony reckless evading could result in the loss of your Second Amendment right to bear arms.
If convicted of evading an officer causing death or serious bodily injury as a felony, Penal Code 29800 PC California's "felon with a firearm" law prohibits you from owning or acquiring firearms for life.21
If your California criminal defense lawyer can reduce the felony conviction to a misdemeanor, the state will lift your firearms ban.22 Otherwise, the only way to restore your California gun rights is to obtain a certificate of rehabilitation or a governor's pardon.23
Vehicle Code 2800.3 and aliens
Absent aggravating circumstances, a Vehicle Code 2800.3 VC conviction will not trigger any deportation issues. However, if your act of evading is based on driving that amounts to a "willful or wanton disregard for safety" in violation of Vehicle Code 2800.2 California's "felony reckless evading" law, you face removal from the United States.
This is because Vehicle Code 2800.2 is a crime of moral turpitude,24 and crimes of moral turpitude subject aliens to deportation.25 For more information about how crimes of moral turpitude affect aliens, please review our article on California crimes that lead to deportation.
The relationship between Vehicle Code 2800.3 VC and murder
Even though Vehicle Code 2800.3 is specifically designed to punish you for killing another person, you could face additional penalties for this crime as well. For example, prosecutors could charge you with Penal Code 245(a)(1) PC assault with a deadly weapon (ADW), vehicular manslaughter, and/or Penal Code 187 PC California's murder law.26
But in order to convict you of murder, the prosecutors must prove that...when you evaded the officer...you acted with malice. This means that you drove with a conscious disregard for the lives of others.27
Another defense strategy is to engage in plea bargaining. Plea bargaining is a useful tool that allows the prosecution to obtain a conviction and allows you to plead guilty to a reduced charge.
This could include the lesser offenses of either Vehicle Code 23103 VC California's "reckless driving" law or Penal Code 148 PC California's "resisting arrest" law. Both of these crimes carry lesser jail sentences and lesser fines than a felony conviction for evading causing injury or death.28
It could also include the lesser offense of VC 2800.1 VC, misdemeanor evading an officer. And because this is a necessarily included offense of VC 2800.3 VC29, it means that even if prosecutors charge you with VC 2800.3 VC...and you take the case to trial...a jury could nevertheless decide to convict you of the misdemeanor evading charge instead if they don't believe you caused a serious bodily injury.
If your case involves mitigating circumstances, your attorney may even be able to convince the prosecutor to reduce your charge to one or more infractions, such as failure to yield or speeding.
Call us for help...
If you or loved one is charged with Vehicle Code 2800.3 VC evading causing injury or death and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.
Additionally, our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys are available to answer any questions about Nevada's evading laws. For more information, we invite you to contact our local attorneys at one of our Nevada law offices, located in Reno and Las Vegas.30 For information about Nevada evading laws, go to our article on Nevada evading laws.
1Vehicle Code 2800.3 VC -- California's "evading an officer causing serious bodily injury or death" law. ("(a) Whenever willful flight or attempt to elude a pursuing peace officer in violation of Section 2800.1 proximately causes serious bodily injury to any person, the person driving the pursued vehicle, upon conviction, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for three, five, or seven years, by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by a fine of not less than two thousand dollars ($2,000) nor more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment. (b) Whenever willful flight or attempt to elude a pursuing peace officer in violation of Section 2800.1 proximately causes death to a person, the person driving the pursued vehicle, upon conviction, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a term of 4, 6, or 10 years. (c) Nothing in this section shall preclude the imposition of a greater sentence pursuant to Section 190 of the Penal Code or any other provisions of law applicable to punishment for an unlawful death. (d) For the purposes of this section, "serious bodily injury" has the same meaning as defined in paragraph (4) of subdivision (f) of Section 243 of the Penal Code.")
3Our California criminal defense attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier. We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
4California Vehicle Code 2800.1 VC -- Misdemeanor evading an officer. ("("(a) Any person who, while operating a motor vehicle and with the intent to evade, willfully flees or otherwise attempts to elude a pursuing peace officer's motor vehicle, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year if all of the following conditions exist: (1) The peace officer's motor vehicle is exhibiting at least one lighted red lamp visible from the front and the person either sees or reasonably should have seen the lamp. (2) The peace officer's motor vehicle is sounding a siren as may be reasonably necessary. (3) The peace officer's motor vehicle is distinctively marked. (4) The peace officer's motor vehicle is operated by a peace officer, as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2 of the Penal Code, and that peace officer is wearing a distinctive uniform.")
5California Jury Instructions, Criminal - CALJIC 12.86 -- California's "evading an officer causing serious bodily injury or death" law.
6Based on People v. Brown (1989) 216 Cal.App.3d 596. In this case, the defendant's conviction was reversed, but on an unrelated issue to the cause of injury/death.
7Judicial Council Of California Criminal Jury Instruction (CALCRIM) 2180 -- California's "evading an officer causing serious bodily injury or death" law.
9People v. Hawkins (1993) 15 Cal.App.4th 1373, 1375. ("The terms "serious bodily injury" and "great bodily injury" have substantially the same meaning.")
10People v. Taylor (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 11, 25. ("[FN4] The statutory definition of serious bodily injury lists bone fractures as one example of a "serious impairment of physical condition." (� 243, subd. (f)(4).) Viewed in context, the reference to bone fractures does not mean "that every bone fracture is serious bodily injury but merely that it can be if it results in a serious impairment of physical condition." ( People v. Nava, supra, 207 Cal.App.3d at pp. 1497-1498, 255 Cal.Rptr. 903, italics added.) CALJIC No. 9.12 and the closing arguments arguably did not make this point sufficiently clear to the jury.")
11Santa Ana criminal defense attorney Zachary McCready defends clients throughout Orange County, including Fullerton, Anaheim, Newport Beach, Santa Ana, Irvine and Westminster.
12See California Vehicle Code 2800.1 VC -- Misdemeanor evading an officer, endnote 4, above.
13People v. Brown (1989) 216 Cal.App.3d 596, endnote 6, above. This is the technical requirement that wasn't satisfied, which resulted in the reversal of the defendant's conviction.
14See Vehicle Code 2800.3 VC -- California's "evading an officer causing serious bodily injury or death" law, endnote 1, above.
17California Vehicle Code 14602.7 -- Fleeing or evading a peace officer; reckless driving; removal and impoundment. ("(a) A magistrate presented with the affidavit of a peace officer establishing reasonable cause to believe that a vehicle, described by vehicle type and license number, was an instrumentality used in the peace officer's presence in violation of Section 2800.1, 2800.2, 2800.3 [California's "evading an officer causing serious bodily injury or death" law], or 23103, shall issue a warrant or order authorizing any peace officer to immediately seize and cause the removal of the vehicle. The warrant or court order may be entered into a computerized database. A vehicle so impounded may be impounded for a period not to exceed 30 days.")
18California Vehicle Code 13351 VC -- Required revocation. ("(a) The department immediately shall revoke the privilege of a person to drive a motor vehicle upon receipt of a duly certified abstract of the record of a court showing that the person has been convicted of any of the following crimes or offenses...(3) Violation of subdivision (a) of Section 191.5 or subdivision (a) of Section 192.5 of the Penal Code or of Section 2800.3 causing serious bodily injury resulting in a serious impairment of physical condition, including, but not limited to, loss of consciousness, concussion, serious bone fracture, protracted loss or impairment of function of any bodily member or organ, and serious disfigurement. (b) The department shall not reinstate the privilege revoked under subdivision (a) until the expiration of three years after the date of revocation and until the person whose privilege was revoked gives proof of financial responsibility, as defined in Section 16430.")
19California Vehicle Code 15300 VC -- First time violations; hazardous material violations. ("(a) A driver of a commercial motor vehicle may not operate a commercial motor vehicle for a period of one year if the driver is convicted of a first violation of any of the following...(10) A violation of Vehicle Code Section 2800.1, 2800.2, or 2800.3 that involves a commercial motor vehicle...")
20California Vehicle Code 15302 VC -- More than one violation. ("A driver of a commercial motor vehicle may not operate a commercial motor vehicle for the rest of his or her life if convicted of more than one violation of any of the following...(j) A violation of Section 2800.1, 2800.2, or 2800.3 that involves a commercial motor vehicle.")
21Penal Code 29800 PC California's felon with a firearm law. ("(a)(1) Any person who has been convicted of a felony under the laws of the United States, the State of California, or any other state, government, or country...and who owns, purchases, receives, or has in his or her possession or under his or her custody or control any firearm is guilty of a felony.")
22California Penal Code 17(b) sets forth the requirements for reducing a felony conviction to a misdemeanor. Because Vehicle Code 2800.3 VC California's "evading an officer causing serious bodily injury or death" law is a wobbler, this type of relief is possible.
23California Penal Code 1203.4 PC -- Expungements. ("Dismissal of an accusation or information pursuant to this section does not permit a person to own, possess, or have in his or her custody or control any firearm or prevent his or her conviction under Section 29800.")
See also California Penal Code 4852.17 PC -- ("Whenever a person is granted a full and unconditional pardon by the Governor [commonly referred to as a governor's pardon], based upon a certificate of rehabilitation, the pardon shall entitle the person to exercise thereafter all civil and political rights of citizenship, including but not limited to: (1) the right to vote; (2) the right to own, possess, and keep any type of firearm that may lawfully be owned and possessed by other citizens; except that this right [that is, restoring your California gun rights] shall not be restored, and Sections 12001 and 29800 shall apply, if the person was ever convicted of a felony involving the use of a dangerous weapon.")
24People v. Dewey (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 216, 222. ("Furthermore, the fact that a violation of California Vehicle Code section 2800.2 always involves an "intent to evade" the pursuing officer provides additional justification for concluding that the offense constitutes a crime of moral turpitude. ") It therefore stands to reason that if your violation of Vehicle Code 2800.3 VC California's "evading an officer causing serious bodily injury or death" law involves allegations of reckless driving, it will also be considered a crime of moral turpitude.
258 U.S. Code Section 1227 -- Deportable aliens. ("(2) Criminal offenses: (A) General crimes: (i) Crimes of moral turpitude. Any alien who-- (I) is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude committed within five years (or 10 years in the case of an alien provided lawful permanent resident status under section 1255(j) of this title) after the date of admission, and (II) is convicted of a crime for which a sentence of one year or longer may be imposed, is deportable.") For more information on deportation, please review our article on California crimes that can lead to deportation.
26California Penal Code 245(a)(1) -- Assault with a deadly weapon (ADW). ("(a)(1) Any person who commits an assault upon the person of another with a deadly weapon or instrument other than a firearm or by any means of force likely to produce great bodily injury shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for not exceeding one year, or by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.")
See also California Penal Code 192(c) PC -- Vehicular manslaughter. ("(c) Vehicular-- (1) Except as provided in subdivision (a) of Section 191.5, driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, and with gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, and with gross negligence. (2) Driving a vehicle in the commission of an unlawful act, not amounting to felony, but without gross negligence; or driving a vehicle in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death, in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence.")
See also California Penal Code 187 PC -- Murder. ("(a) Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.")
27People v. Watson (1981) 30 Cal.3d 290.
28Vehicle Code 23103 VC California's "reckless driving" law. ("(a) A person who drives a vehicle upon a highway in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving. (b) A person who drives a vehicle in an offstreet parking facility, as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 12500, in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving. (c) Persons convicted of the offense of reckless driving shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for not less than five days nor more than 90 days or by a fine of not less than one hundred forty-five dollars ($145) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment, except as provided in Section 23104 or 23105.")
See also Penal Code 148 PC California's "resisting arrest" law. ("(a)(1) Every person who willfully resists, delays, or obstructs any public officer, peace officer, or an emergency medical technician, as defined in Division 2.5 (commencing with Section 1797) of the Health and Safety Code, in the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office or employment, when no other punishment is prescribed, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment.")
29California Jury Instructions, Criminal - CALJIC 12.86 -- California's "evading an officer causing serious bodily injury or death" law.
30Please feel free to contact our Nevada criminal defense attorneys Michael Becker and Mike Castillo for any questions about Nevada's evading laws. Their Nevada law offices are located in Reno and Las Vegas.